Hanging By a Thread

Dear Reader,

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Are you superstitious? Do you think it’s no harm and it’s sometimes better to perform or not some silly ritualistic action, just in case?

…If you do, congratulations. You have been manipulated by the devil into serving him while thinking you’re doing nothing wrong and your actions are all coming from your own sacrosanct Free Will and ideas of problem solving. That’s the crowning act of the Great Pretender, you know, and knowing of it is a key prerequisite to fighting it. Truth will make one free, that’s a Biblical saying, and Truth is the Word of God. So knowing of the manipulation, that’s for the congratulations part, as one can’t take action against something one doesn’t know of. 

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Remember how I have sometimes complained that we Bulgarians are still pagans? When I was a baby, I had a red thread around my wrist, to protect me against bad eyes. Countless people wear a red thread today, and, championed by Madonna and other celebrities, it has become a fashion accessory.

Funnily or perhaps not quite, people request red threads from priests in churches. Other people demand consecrated water to use in rituals hocas, healers, or clairvoyants would perform on them. Of course priests refuse, suggesting that the hocas, healers, or clairvoyants summon their powers and consecrate the water themselves. People leave angry, convinced they have legitimately demanded, and have unlawfully been denied, a service by an administration put in place for public service. Others put things in an even more transactional context, claiming they have been denied service as part of a competition war between business rivals.*

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From an Orthodox perspective, the problem with superstition is that people, created in the image of God, lose all chances to achieve His likeness because they take away their faith in His Word and place it in created things – threads, stones, lucky charms, numbers, the stars, you name it – which are inferior to them. In this way they burn their bridges to God, the Uncreated as per the Creed, and lose all chances of being guided by divine wisdom when they need it. Given that nature tolerates no void, the place in the human soul freed up by God is promptly filled in by the devil who champs at having won over yet another disciple.

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Please be aware that in talking of God and the Devil, I am not suggesting dualism of Good and evil (small e) existing on an equal footing and fighting for dominion to spite each other like ancient Greek deities. Good is the Way, and Truth, and Life, while evil is good fallen because of pride. So evil is ontologically inferior to Good, and it is indeed below the dignity of man as God’s creation to serve it. Similarly to how things stand in law, cluelessness does not make wrongdoings any less important, and cluelessness is in fact what evil mostly relies on.

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In line with this, I have for a long time wondered at the following phenomenon. Whenever Bulgarian media report of any day being this or that Orthodox holiday, they say the Orthodox Church commemorates this or that occasion in one short sentence. The next sentence is about the folk calendar for the same day that has added to the ecclesiastical occasion all sorts of practices and clairvoyances that have nothing to do with the Orthodox saint celebrated whatsoever. So how about that – On June 24 the Orthodox Church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist. In the folk calendar, June 24 is the day when herbs are believed to have the greatest healing powers. Herbs are collected at dawn, are dipped in “silent” water – brought from a clear spring by unmarried girls in total silence the night before – and everybody’s head is sprinkled, with wishes for health and luck. Then a kurban – meaning oily meat stew meant to appease or thank God – is cooked and is eaten at the village square. No housework and laundry are allowed, as they are believed to cause hails. 

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I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions…While I am not quite supportive of hard-line clerics calling folk music pagan, I do call on media to refrain from announcing church and folk holidays together in this glib egalitarian fashion as part of the right to information, as, again, this suggests an equal footing and interconnection between the two festivities, which is not the case.

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If anyone wishes to gaze into the silent water to see whom the’re going to marry, more power to them, but let’s at least not associate that with the Orthodox tradition, as this is not in the least part of anything it stands for. 

Another thing, apart from interconnecting clairvoyance and sorcery with God, that the devil uses to sever man’s ties to God, is making people want to celebrate “imported” holidays because they’re fun, create social occasions, and come along with cool merchandise. But indeed, the next time one feels the urge to celebrate Halloween masked as a decomposing corpse, one had better take a selfie with one at an actual funeral. Quite another league compared with selfies on trains and on top of skyscrapers. Also, instead of bemoaning one’s lack of a partner ahead of St. Valentine’s Day, one should perhaps ponder their state of literacy ahead of the Saints Cyril and Methodius days on May 11 and May 24.

Right now, I stop indulging in sweet indignation, as this may be pride in disguise. I hope this post might be useful to somebody and help them in some little way get rid of confessional clutter. 

Boryana

* This post owes a lot to books Encounters with Life and Encounters with death, by priest Vladimir Doychev, and a treatise on the superstitions among today’s Christians by monks Vissarion Zografski and Joan Filipov of Mount Athos.